- Associated Press - Saturday, May 24, 2014

DUNKERTON, Iowa (AP) - As a farmer, Robert Jefferson knows more than crops - and he and his family have tried their hands at a variety of them over the years.

Legions of other farmers could make the same claim. But, Jefferson, 85, is a little different from his neighbors. That’s because his family’s farm is one of only 10 in Black Hawk County that have earned the Heritage designation from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reports (https://bit.ly/1gPQFXv ) the designation isn’t easy to get. To qualify, a parcel of at least 40 acres has to be in the same family’s control for at least 150 years.

There’s also a Century Farm designation for operations that have been in the same family for 100 years or more.

“I think it’s important to recognize all of our past farm owners who worked so hard to keep the land that they’ve owned in their family,” said Becky Lorenz, Century/Heritage Farms coordinator with the agriculture department.

“We have a great history in Iowa of farmers, and it’s important that we recognize what they go through to keep their farms in their families.”

Each year, new designations are awarded at the Iowa State Fair. The program is taking applications until June 1 at www.iowaagriculture.gov.

“They get a plaque and a certificate. You can just see it when they get those just how proud they are just to reach the milestone,” Lorenz said.

The family line controlling the farm sometimes takes some zigs and zags, Lorenz said.

“It just has to be a relative. You know, it comes through the mom’s side, the dad’s side, through aunts and uncles,” Lorenz said. “Of course, the standard is grandparents, parents and the kids, but when it comes through nieces and nephews, it might not come through the traditional route through their parents, but I find it interesting that their love of the land is just as strong. They want to keep it in the family.”

Jefferson can trace his family’s stake in the land with a straight line to his great-great-grandfather and great-grandfather, both named William Jefferson. They bought three 40-acre plats in 1856. Two were adjacent and the third was sold some time later for taxes, Robert Jefferson said.

Father and son grew oats and corn on their newly acquired land, and it was not always an easy go, Jefferson noted.

“I understand in 1858 the weather was terrible and they hardly got any crops,” he said.

The farm has grown to 380 acres today.

“Every generation has added to it a little bit - 40 acres here, 40 acres there,” he said.

The family has dabbled in array of crops, Jefferson said, as well as dairy farming.

“My grandfather had developed a herd of purebred Holsteins, and during the period I was growing up, they sold a lot of Holstein bulls to different people who were developing herds,” he said.

The family - including Robert’s son, Bruce, and Bruce’s wife, Janice - still live on the property and operate the Jefferson Orchard and Greenhouse, although they rent out much of the acreage for corn and soybean production. Robert Jefferson has turned his talents to growing trees.

“Basically, we’ve got 80 acres of timber on the farm, and I guess I’m a tree farmer now,” he said.

One of the tricks to attaining Heritage status is navigating an operation through the ups and downs of the farm economy, and Jefferson says he’s seen plenty of those.

“Thanks to Jimmy Carter, I about went broke in the ‘80s, in the farm crisis,” he said. “I just didn’t give up. I just hung on.”

He later quit farming full time and went into selling insurance and investments and rented out the acreage. It’s still home, and the Heritage designation is a point of pride, Jefferson said.

“I guess this is my spot on Earth,” he said.

The Grupp family echoes a similar reverence for their Heritage Farm in Cedar Falls.

The Grupp acreage, called Three Pines Farm, achieved its Heritage status last year.

Norman and Jane Rundles traveled by covered wagon from New York to Iowa to establish the farm in 1855.

“My aunt even has the ox yoke from that journey,” said Kara Grupp, who moved to the farm from Ames last fall to take charge of some restoration work on the property, which has 213 acres.

Brother and sister Jim and Kathryn Grupp, Kara’s dad and aunt, own the land and want to preserve its links to the past, including a large barn that Norman Rundles constructed out of timber he had traveled to Wisconsin to find.

The Three Pines website recounts how the family lost two children while Norman was logging in Wisconsin pine forests. But he finished the job and timbers were shipped to the farm.

The barn went up and four pines were planted at the farm. One of the saplings died, but three remained to serve as the farm’s namesake.

The Grupps say bringing some of the past back, including setting some acreage aside for natural prairie, is a priority.

The barn restoration is almost finished, Kara Grupp said.

That’s just one project.

“I am in the process of restoring a vintage hog house built by my grandpa into a folk school of sorts, where we will offer classes and workshops on . everything from domestic arts, to agrarian skill building, to nature appreciation, healthful living, arts and crafts, etc.”

Jim Grupp said it’s just his way to honor those who came before.

The Grupp family hasn’t farmed the land since the 1964, when Jim and Kathryn’s parents, William and Mary, moved off the land. But it has been productive from its origins, said Jim Grupp, 74.

Family friend Melvin Johnson, along with some of Johnson’s family, grows corn and soybeans on the farm.

Johnson and his wife, Sylvia, lived on the farm from the mid-1960s until Kara Grupp moved back on the land, with her husband, Forrest Stowe, in part, to take on the restoration project.

Kara Grupp said it’s important to keep the past alive, and that’s the motive behind the restoration.

“So many of the Heritage farms experience the loss of the barns and other farm buildings that are such defining features of an Iowa farmstead, in addition to the families themselves moving away for many different reasons,” she said.


Information from: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, https://www.wcfcourier.com

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